Federal Lawsuit Targets Spying By New York City Police Department In The City And New Jersey

June 6, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – Eight Muslims filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in New Jersey to force the New York Police Department to end its surveillance and other intelligence-gathering practices targeting Muslims in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks. The lawsuit alleged that the police activities were unconstitutional because they focused on people’s religion, national origin and race.

It is the first lawsuit to directly challenge the NYPD’s surveillance programs, which were the subject of an investigative series by The Associated Press since last year. Based on internal NYPD reports and interviews with officials involved in the programs, the AP reported that the NYPD conducted wholesale surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people ate, prayed and got their hair cut. Police infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds more.

Syed Farhaj Hassan, one of the plaintiffs, stopped attending one mosque as often after he learned it was one of four where he worships that were included in NYPD files. Those mosques were located along the East Coast from central Connecticut to the Philadelphia suburbs, but none was linked to terrorism, either publicly or in the confidential NYPD documents.

Hassan, an Army reservist from a small town outside of New Brunswick, N.J., said he was concerned that anything linking his life to potential terrorism would hurt his military security clearance.

“Guilt by association was forced on me,” Hassan said.

The NYPD did not respond to questions about the lawsuit but noted the New Jersey attorney general determined last month that NYPD activities in New Jersey were legal.

NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said his department is obligated to do this type of surveillance in order to protect New York from another 9/11. Kelly has said the 2001 attacks proved that New Yorkers could not rely solely on the federal government for protection, and the NYPD needed to enhance its efforts.

Hassan said he served in Iraq in 2003 to stop the atrocities of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

“I didn’t know they had one across the Hudson,” he said, referring to the NYPD intelligence division.

California-based Muslim Advocates, a civil rights organization that meets regularly with representatives of the Obama administration, is representing the plaintiffs in the case for free.

“The NYPD program is founded upon a false and constitutionally impermissible premise: that Muslim religious identity is a legitimate criterion for selection of law-enforcement surveillance targets,” the lawsuit said.

New Jersey lawmakers were outraged earlier this year when they learned of the surveillance. But after a three-month review, the state’s attorney general found that the NYPD did not violate any state laws when it spied on Muslim neighborhoods and organizations. The attorney general found no recourse for the state of New Jersey to stop the NYPD from infiltrating Muslim student groups, video-taping mosque-goers or collecting their license plate numbers as they prayed.

No court has ruled that the NYPD programs were illegal. But the division operates without significant oversight: The New York City Council does not believe it has the expertise to oversee the intelligence division, and Congress believes the NYPD is not part of its jurisdiction even though the police department receives billions in federal funding each year.

Members of Congress and civil rights groups have urged the Justice Department to investigate the NYPD’s practices. A Justice Department spokeswoman said they are still reviewing the requests. Federal investigations into police departments typically focus on police abuse or racial profiling in arrests. Since 9/11, the Justice Department has never publicly investigated a police department for its surveillance in national security investigations.

Because of widespread civil rights abuses during the 1950s and 1960s, the NYPD has been limited by a court order in what intelligence it can gather on innocent people. Lawyers in that case have questioned whether the post-9/11 spying violates that order. The lawsuit filed Wednesday is a separate legal challenge.

The NYPD and New York officials have said the surveillance programs violated no one’s constitutional rights, and the NYPD is allowed to travel anywhere to collect information. Officials have said NYPD lawyers closely review the intelligence division’s programs.

“The constitutional violation that the NYPD did commit was blanket surveillance of a group based on religion,” said Glenn Katon, Muslim Advocate’s legal director. He said a program that treats people differently based on religion, national origin or race is subject to the Constitution. “That’s the crux of our claim,” he said.

A George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley, said it would be a challenge to convince the government that the NYPD’s practices were illegal because the courts and Congress have allowed more and more surveillance in the years since 9/11. But, he said, most of these questions have been handled in policy debates and not in the court systems.

Nineteen-year-old Moiz Mohammed, a sophomore at Rutgers University, said he was moved to join the lawsuit after reading reports that the NYPD had conducted surveillance of Muslim student groups at colleges across the Northeast, including his own. He said the revelations had made him nervous to pray in public or engage in lively debates with fellow students — a practice he said he once most enjoyed about the college atmosphere.

“It’s such an unfair thing going on: Here I am, I am an American citizen, I was born here, I am law abiding, I volunteer in my community, I have dialogues and good relationships with Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and the NYPD here is surveilling people like me?”

“We feel as though it was a violation of our constitutional and our civil and our human rights,” said Abdul Kareem Muhammad, one of the plaintiff’s in the case. Muhammad is the imam of the Newark mosque, Masjid al-Haqq. That mosque was listed and pictured in a September 2007 NYPD report on Newark.

“We have a very strong objection to that,” Muhammad said. “We condemn and denounce every form of terrorism.”

Muhammad said he and other Muslim community leaders have not been given assurances that the NYPD is no longer conducting surveillance on their communities.

“That’s become very disturbing, too,” Muhammad said. “There’s a possibility that this is still going on.”

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30,000 Secret Warrant Per Year To Spy On People In The United States

June 5, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Federal judges approve about 30,000 secret warrants to spy on people in the USA every year, and the innocent probably will never know they were watched, says a U.S. jurist involved in issuing the orders.

Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith writes in a new paper, highlighted by Ars Technica, that the 2006 total outstripped the entire output of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court since it was created in 1979, and the number is probably growing.

The secret orders are authorized by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, known as ECPA. Smith writes that the volume of such cases “is greater than the combined yearly total of all antitrust, employment discrimination, environmental, copyright, patent, trademark and securities cases filed in federal court.”

The warrants and the court’s proceedings are not open to public scrutiny. A three-judge panel reviews denials of applications for the warrants, but the court is not adversarial or open, and many orders are never unsealed.

Here are some of Smith’s findings, which will be published in the Harvard Law & Policy Review:

These electronic surveillance orders … grant law enforcement access to the electronic lives of our citizens — who we call, where we go, when we text, what websites we visit, what emails we send. Unlike most court orders, electronic surveillance orders are permanently hidden from public view by various ECPA provisions, including sealed court files, gag orders, and delayed-notice. It’s as though these orders were written in invisible ink — legible to the phone companies and electronic service providers who execute them, yet imperceptible to targeted individuals, the general public, and even other arms of government, including Congress and appellate courts.

This regime of secrecy has many unhealthy consequences: Congress lacks accurate empirical data to monitor the effectiveness of the existing statutory scheme and adapt it to new technologies; appellate courts are unable to give effective guidance to magistrate judges on how to interpret ECPA’s complex provisions in light of changing technology; and citizens are not informed about the extent of government intrusion into their electronic lives. With Congress on the sidelines, appellate courts not engaged, and the public in the dark, the balance between surveillance and privacy has shifted dramatically towards law enforcement, almost by default.

To get to his 30,000 estimate, Smith combined an earlier government survey with data from his own court’s docket, Ars Technica notes.

Smith calls for “structural changes” in the law to “eliminate unnecessary secrecy,” including an end to “automatic gagging” and sealing orders. He suggests a publicly available “warrant cover sheet” that features basic information about every electronic surveillance order.

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EPA Using Airborne Drones To Spy On Farmers In Nebraska And Iowa

June 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is using aerial drones to spy on farmers in Nebraska and Iowa. The surveillance came under scrutiny last week when Nebraska’s congressional delegation sent a joint letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

On Friday, EPA officialdom in “Region 7” responded to the letter.

“Courts, including the Supreme Court, have found similar types of flights to be legal (for example to take aerial photographs of a chemical manufacturing facility) and EPA would use such flights in appropriate instances to protect people and the environment from violations of the Clean Water Act,” the agency said in response to the letter.

“They are just way on the outer limits of any authority they’ve been granted,” said Mike Johanns, a Republican senator from Nebraska.

In fact, the EPA has absolutely zero authority and is an unconstitutional entity of an ever-expanding and rogue federal government. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution does not authorize Congress to legislate in the area of the environment. Under the Tenth Amendment, this authority is granted to the states and their legislatures, not the federal government.

The EPA has not addressed the constitutional question, including its wanton violation of probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. It merely states that it has authority to surveil the private property of farmers and ranchers. It defends its encroaching behavior as “cost-efficient.”

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Law Enforcement Officials Refuse To Identify Who Owns Or Uses License Plate Readers/Cameras Being Installed On Lawrence County New York Utility Poles

June 2, 2012

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, NEW YORK – Some area law enforcement officials apparently know who is installing the mysterious camera boxes on utility poles around St. Lawrence County, but they’re not saying who it is.

The boxes, with a window for cameras to peer out of, have popped up in Norwood, Raymondville, DeKalb Junction, Waddington, Massena and Canton, according to witnesses.

Law enforcement officials at local, state and federal agencies agree the boxes contain license plate readers that take snapshots, and are not video cameras that send live feeds. But none of them are willing to identify what agency the cameras belong to and who is operating them.

The cameras appear to be identical to license plate readers advertised on web sites as containing a visible light camera, infrared camera and an infrared light source. The cameras can read plates on passing vehicles, record the plate number, date, time and location, send it to a database for storage, and alert law enforcement if it detects a vehicle or driver being sought.

They are similar to vehicle-mounted units that St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells says his department has been using for 10 years.

But about the pole-mounted cameras, Sheriff Wells says, “They are not mine.”

A spokesperson from National Grid, the major electric distributor in the region, said the company periodically agrees to requests from police agencies for placement of such devices on utility poles, but they are not permitted to reveal any details about whose cameras they are or where they might be.

National Grid’s Virginia Limmiatis, a senior media relations representative in Syracuse, said their policy “authorizes the user to plug into our system. Under the agreement they are required to install and maintain their own equipment.” The user will get a bill for a usage fee. But she couldn’t say whose cameras these are.

Meanwhile, a box Massena Electric employees found on one of their poles was turned over to the Massena Police Department. “We didn’t even know it was a camera,” said Superintendent Andrew McMahon. “We called the village police to pick it up.”

Massena Police Chief Timmy Currier said he returned it to the owner, but wouldn’t say how he knew who the owner was, nor would he say who he gave it to.

A Border Patrol operations officer in the sector station in Swanton, Vt., said he had no knowledge about the use of the cameras. He referred questions to an investigator apparently associated with Franklin County law enforcement, who said he knew about other cameras, but didn’t know about deployment of license plate readers, and wouldn’t discuss it further.

State Police Lt. Kevin Boyea of Troop B said he has no knowledge of the cameras, their origin or their purpose.

However, not all police agencies were aware of the boxes. After discussing it at a periodic meeting of police chiefs from around the county this morning, Wells said, “none of the local chiefs were ever contacted about the existence of these cameras.”

Several of the law enforcement representatives said use of cameras – license plate readers and surveillance cameras – is increasing, and while we might not be used to such scrutiny in the North Country, each cited reports about how people living in cities should expect to be on camera at any given moment.

“Any time you travel in an urban area, you will see lots of cameras,” said Sheriff Wells. Many, he said, are designed to record drivers who go through red lights, and there are many other uses. “They’re designed to assist police. They are a tool for investigators.”

But any law enforcement agency that wants data stored by the cameras can have access to it if they need it and can show why. But they can’t tell us who they send their requests to.

McMahon, the superintendent at Massena Electric Department, said one of his crews found a box on one of their poles and took it down because “it was in the electric space,” the top tier of wires on the pole above the telephone and cable TV wires, and whoever put it there had taken a chance with electrocution. He said they had never received a request or been informed about its placement.

McMahon said whoever put it there might have thought the pole belonged to National Grid, and that it wouldn’t be the first time a mistake like that had happened. He said National Grid themselves had once replaced a damaged Massena Electric pole without knowing it.

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Bomb Threat Prompts Evacuation Of Under Construction NSA Spy Facility On Military Base In Utah

May 21, 2012

UTAH – A bomb threat forced the evacuation of a National Security Agency facility under construction in Utah on Monday but investigators found nothing suspicious, an FBI spokeswoman said.

The site for the spy agency is being built at Camp Williams, a military base just south of Salt Lake City. The Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the project.

FBI spokeswoman Deborah Bertram declined to say how the threat was received but said it led to an evacuation at the site.

FBI agents spent several hours at the site after the threat was received. “We found nothing suspicious,” Bertram said.

U.S. officials have released few details on the purpose of the National Security Agency center.

The agency is in charge of collecting and analyzing foreign communications and protecting U.S. government communications and information systems.

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Spy Drone Nearly Causes Mid-Air Collision Over Denver Colorado

May 17, 2012

DENVER, COLORADO – A mystery object, thought to be a military or law enforcement drone, flying in controlled airspace over Denver almost caused a catastrophic mid air crash with a commercial jet Monday.

The pilot of the Cessna jet radioed air traffic controllers to warn them that “A remote controlled aircraft” had flown past his plane far too close for comfort.

“Something just went by the other way … About 20 to 30 seconds ago. It was like a large remote-controlled aircraft.” the pilot said in the transmission that was captured on the live air traffic audio website liveatc.net.

The craft was reported as being about 8,000 feet above sea level, or about 2,800 feet above the ground, at the time the pilot reported the seeing it. It did not show up on radar.

The type of drones used by NATO typically fly at 10,000 feet and below. Other tactical military drones can fly up to 18,000 feet.

Denver 9News reports that the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, which it has described as potentially “extremely dangerous.”

“The threat is there from a collision standpoint,” an FAA spokesman said.

In a statement to USA Today, the agency said: “The FAA is investigating the incident and will try to positively identify the object the Citation pilot reported, where it came from and who was operating it.”

Aviation expert and former NTSB investigator Greg Feith told 9News that he believed the object could have been either a military or police drone.

“We have something in controlled airspace that poses a danger,” Feith added.

Watch the report:

As we reported yesterday, the federal government is rolling out new rules on the use of the unmanned drones this week, with the Federal Aviation Administration announcing procedures will “streamline” the process through which government agencies, including local law enforcement, receive licenses to operate the aircraft.

Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.

Privacy advocates have warned that the FAA has not acted to establish any safeguards whatsoever, and that congress is not holding the agency to account.

In addition, a recently uncovered Air Force document circumvents laws and clears the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.

Constitutional and legal expert Judge Andrew Napolitano, and his Fox News colleague Charles Krauthammer have both warned that the drones could become a literal shooting target for Americans protesting their illegal use for surveillance by the government and the military.

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New Jersey Judge: First American Patriot To Shoot Down Spy Drone Will Be A Hero

May 17, 2012

NEW JERSEY – Judge Andrew Napolitano has warned Congress not to act “like potted plants” regarding the increased use of unmanned surveillance drones without warrants over US skies by military, government, and law enforcement agencies.

Echoing the recent comments of his Fox News colleague Charles Krauthammer, Napolitano also said that “The first American patriot that shoots down one of these drones that comes too close to his children in his backyard will be an American hero.”

The federal government is rolling out new rules on the use of the unmanned drones this week, with the Federal Aviation Administration announcing procedures will “streamline” the process through which government agencies, including local law enforcement, receive licenses to operate the aircraft.

Privacy advocates have warned that the FAA has not acted to establish any privacy safeguards whatsoever, and that congress is not holding the agency to account.

A recently uncovered Air Force document also circumvents laws and clears the way for the Pentagon to use drones to monitor the activities of Americans.

The Air Force instruction, dated April 23, admits that the Air Force cannot legally conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans, but also states that should the drones”incidentally” capture data while conducting other missions, military intelligence has the right to study it to determine whether the subjects are legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.

“The same Congress that let the president bomb Libya is going to let his Air Force spy in our backyards and like potted plants, they’ll look the other way,” Judge Napolitano urged yesterday.

“The Third Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment and the Ninth Amendment were written to guarantee us the right to be left alone … Suddenly the government, silently, from 30,000 feet above is violating those amendments,” he added.

As we reported in February, over 30 prominent watchdog groups have banded together to petition the FAA on the proposed increase in the use of drones in US airspace.

The groups, including The American Civil Liberties Union, The Electronic Privacy Information Center, and The Bill of Rights Defense Committee, submitted a petition demanding that the FAA hold a rulemaking session to consider the privacy and safety threats.

Congress recently passed legislation paving the way for what the FAA predicts will be somewhere in the region of 30,000 drones in operation in US skies by 2020.

The ACLU noted that the FAA’s legislation “would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”

In addition to privacy concerns, the groups warned that the ability to link facial recognition technology to surveillance drones and patch the information through to active government databases would “increase the First Amendment risks for would be political dissidents.”

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FAA To Ease Rules For Domestic Use Of Surveillance Aircraft To Spy On US Citizens In America

May 15, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA — Surveillance aircraft used by the U.S. military overseas could soon be coming to the skies above Los Angeles County.

KNX 1070′s Charles Feldman reports the Federal Aviation Administration is making it easier for local law enforcement agencies to fly unmanned drones.

The FAA has streamlined the process that would allow agencies to fly smaller, unarmed versions of the drones that hunt down terrorists in places such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

While the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has not yet applied for an application to fly drones over our skies, its Homeland Security chief Bob Osborne said drones could be in the department’s future — with some caveats.

“We have so much congestion in the skies that I would anticipate that there would be some pretty rigid safety standards,” said Osborne.

Drones are typically used over locations where helicopters and fixed wing aircraft are unable to fly, which Osborne said could have a myriad of applications here in the Southland.

“Mountain rescue, where you have a car over the side that’s a thousand feet down the cliff, oftentimes our aircraft can’t fly that low,” he said. “It would be wonderful to know what’s down there before we send a rescue crew.”

Federal officials already utilize drones to patrol a 1,200-mile wide swath of land east of San Diego near the southeast California border.

But the recent expansion of drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) above American cities has raised privacy concerns among some who believe the technology could be used for surveillance on U.S. citizens without their knowledge.

President Obama set a deadline in February for the FAA to draft legislation by May 14 that would determine how it will regulate the use of lightweight drones by police and other public safety agencies.

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New York City Police Spy And Keep Records On Americans Based On Their Religion – Jews (Of Course) Excluded From Monitoring…

March 9, 2012

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — The New York Police Department kept secret files on businesses owned by second- and third-generation Americans specifically because they were Muslims, according to newly obtained documents that spell out in the clearest terms yet that police were monitoring people based on religion.

The NYPD has faced intense criticism from Muslims, lawmakers and even the FBI for widespread spying operations that put entire neighborhoods under surveillance. Police put the names of innocent people in secret files and monitored the mosques, student groups and businesses that make up the Muslim landscape of the northeastern U.S.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended his department’s efforts, saying they have kept the city safe, were completely legal and were not based on religion.

VIEW THE DOCUMENTS

“We don’t stop to think about the religion,” Bloomberg said at a news conference in August after The Associated Press began revealing the spying. “We stop to think about the threats and focus our efforts there.”

In late 2007, however, plainclothes officers in the department’s secretive Demographics Unit were assigned to investigate the region’s Syrian population. Police photographed businesses and eavesdropped at lunch counters and inside grocery stores and pastry shops. The resulting document listed no threat. And though most people of Syrian heritage living in the area were Jewish, Jews were excluded from the monitoring.

“This report will focus on the smaller Muslim community,” the report said.

Similarly, police excluded the city’s sizable Coptic Christian population when photographing, monitoring and eavesdropping on Egyptian businesses in 2007, according to the police files.

“This report does not represent the Coptic Egyptian community and is merely an insight into the Muslim Egyptian community of New York City,” the NYPD wrote.

Many of those under surveillance were American-born citizens whose families have been here for the better part of a century.

“The majority of Syrians encountered by members of the Demographics Unit are second- or even third-generation Syrian Americans,” the Syrian report said. “It is unusual to encounter a first generation or new arrival Syrian in New York City.”

The Demographics Unit was conceived in secret years ago as a way to identify communities where terrorists might hide and spot potential problems early. If the plainclothes officers, known as “rakers,” overheard anti-American sentiment or violent rhetoric, they flagged it for follow-up investigation.

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Another Black Hole In Which To Throw Taxpayer Dollars: FAA Sees 30,000 Drones In US Airspace Spying On US Citizens By 2020

February 8, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s … a drone, and it’s watching you. That’s what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed this week to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.

The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.

Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.

“There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities,” said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also is “concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies,” said attorney Jennifer Lynch.

The provision in the legislation is the fruit of “a huge push by lawmakers and the defense sector to expand the use of drones” in American airspace, she added.

According to some estimates, the commercial drone market in the United States could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA clears their use.

The agency projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020.

The highest-profile use of drones by the United States has been in the CIA’s armed Predator-drone program, which targets al Qaeda terrorist leaders. But the vast majority of U.S. drone missions, even in war zones, are flown for surveillance. Some drones are as small as model aircraft, while others have the wingspan of a full-size jet.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. use of drone surveillance has grown so rapidly that it has created a glut of video material to be analyzed.

The legislation would order the FAA, before the end of the year, to expedite the process through which it authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other agencies. The FAA currently issues certificates, which can cover multiple flights by more than one aircraft in a particular area, on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency to discuss openly its use of drones in domestic airspace.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the department, operates nine drones, variants of the CIA’s feared Predator. The aircraft, which are flown remotely by a team of 80 fully qualified pilots, are used principally for border and counternarcotics surveillance under four long-term FAA certificates.

Officials say they can be used on a short-term basis for a variety of other public-safety and emergency-management missions if a separate certificate is issued for that mission.

“It’s not all about surveillance,” Mr. Aftergood said.

Homeland Security has deployed drones to support disaster relief operations. Unmanned aircraft also could be useful for fighting fires or finding missing climbers or hikers, he added.

The FAA has issued hundreds of certificates to police and other government agencies, and a handful to research institutions to allow them to fly drones of various kinds over the United States for particular missions.

The agency said it issued 313 certificates in 2011 and 295 of them were still active at the end of the year, but the FAA refuses to disclose which agencies have the certificates and what their purposes are.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the FAA to obtain records of the certifications.

“We need a list so we can ask [each agency], ‘What are your policies on drone use? How do you protect privacy? How do you ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment?’ ” Ms. Lynch said.

“Currently, the only barrier to the routine use of drones for persistent surveillance are the procedural requirements imposed by the FAA for the issuance of certificates,” said Amie Stepanovich, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research center in Washington.

The Department of Transportation, the parent agency of the FAA, has announced plans to streamline the certification process for government drone flights this year, she said.

“We are looking at our options” to oppose that, she added.

Section 332 of the new FAA legislation also orders the agency to develop a system for licensing commercial drone flights as part of the nation’s air traffic control system by 2015.

The agency must establish six flight ranges across the country where drones can be test-flown to determine whether they are safe for travel in congested skies.

Representatives of the fast-growing unmanned aircraft systems industry say they worked hard to get the provisions into law.

“It sets deadlines for the integration of [the drones] into the national airspace,” said Gretchen West, executive vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group.

She said drone technology is new to the FAA.

The legislation, which provides several deadlines for the FAA to report progress to Congress, “will move the [drones] issue up their list of priorities,” Ms. West said.

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FBI Wants Lots More Stuff To Use To Spy On American Citizens

January 27, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The US Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking for a tool to mine social media for intelligence tips.

The US domestic law enforcement agency is asking information technology contractors about the feasibility of building a tool that would “enhance its techniques for collecting and sharing ‘open source’ actionable intelligence.”

The January 19 open request was published on a website offering federal business opportunities and was first reported by New Scientist magazine.

The FBI said it is seeking an “open source and social media alert, mapping and analysis application solution” for its Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC).

“Social media has become a primary source of intelligence because it has become the premier first response to key events and the primal alert to possible developing situations,” the FBI request said.

“Intelligence analysts will often use social media to receive the first tip-off that a crisis has occurred,” it said.

The FBI said the tool “must have the ability to rapidly assemble critical open source information and intelligence that will allow SIOC to quickly vet, identity, and geo-locate breaking events, incidents and emerging threats.”

It would need to be able to “instantly search and monitor key words and strings in all ‘publicly available’ tweets across the Twitter site and any other ‘publicly available’ social networking sites/forums.”

It would also need the ability to “search the data across a myriad of parameters and view terrorist activities by location, terrorist group, and type of attack and see trends and analytics.”

In addition, it would have to be able “to immediately translate into English, tweets and any other open forum publically available social media captured in a foreign language.”

Interested parties have until February 10 to respond to the FBI request.

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New York City Police Officers Trained By Resident CIA Agent Who Also “Advises” Department – CIA Still Claims They Don’t Spy In US

August 26, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC –  New York’s police commissioner confirmed Thursday that a CIA officer is working out of police headquarters there, after an Associated Press investigation revealed an unusual partnership with the CIA that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying. But he and the CIA said the spy agency’s role at the department is an advisory one.

Speaking to reporters in New York, commissioner Raymond Kelly acknowledged that the CIA trains NYPD officers on “trade craft issues,” meaning espionage techniques, and advises police about events happening overseas. Kelly also said he was unaware of any other U.S. police department with a similar relationship with the CIA.

“They are involved in providing us with information, usually coming from perhaps overseas and providing it to us for, you know, just for our purposes,” Kelly said.

CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said the agency does not spy inside the United States and also described the relationship with the NYPD as collaborative.

“Our cooperation, in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is exactly what the American people deserve and have come to expect following 9/11,” she said.

A months-long investigation by the AP, published Wednesday, revealed that the NYPD has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as “rakers,” into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They’ve monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons, even when there’s no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims.

Many of the operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD’s intelligence unit after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The NYPD denied that it trolls ethnic neighborhoods and said it only follows leads. The mayor on Thursday defended the police department’s efforts.

“In the end the NYPD’s first job is prevention, and I think they’ve done a very good job of that,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said when asked about the police practices. “The law is pretty clear about what’s the requirement, and I think they’ve followed the law.”

Also Thursday, New York City Councilman Brad Lander said the city council should conduct an oversight hearing on the NYPD’s programs, but Lander is not in a leadership position to enforce that such hearings take place.

“We must be sure that the NYPD’s intelligence gathering does not violate civil liberties, target and profile our city’s diverse ethnic and religious communities,” Lander said.

City Councilman Peter Vallone, chairman of the panel that oversees the police department, said the council already had scheduled two NYPD oversight hearings during which these issues could be raised.

The disclosures about the NYPD’s activities provoked exasperation in the city’s Muslim neighborhoods, where government officials have sought to build relationships in Muslim communities and pledged to ensure that Muslims aren’t targeted for discrimination.

“The NYPD’s credibility is bankrupt in our communities,” Fahd Ahmed, legal and policy director of the Desis Rising Up & Moving group, said in a statement Thursday. “We need accountability, transparency and an overhaul of tactics and policies.”

Government outreach programs have operated in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., and Washington—all cities with large Muslim communities—even as law enforcement around the country has stepped up investigative efforts to stave off attacks.

But the inherent tensions caused by this duality of missions is perhaps most visible in New York. It is the only U.S. city that al-Qaida has successfully attacked twice and continues to be the target of terror plots. New York also is home to the country’s most aggressive local police department investigating counterterrorism.

“It seems to many of the leadership here, there are two kinds of authorities they are playing—one is in the forefront which is very cooperative,” said Zaheer Uddin of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York. “And there is another authority, which is playing against Islam and Muslims, going against the First Amendment and the security of this country.”

Uddin asked, “Are we partners, or are we a suspicious community?”

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said it will review a request by a Muslim advocacy group to investigate.

“These revelations send the message to American Muslims that they are being viewed as a suspect community and that their constitutional rights may be violated with impunity,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which asked for the investigation. “The Justice Department must initiate an immediate investigation of the civil rights implications of this spy program and the legality of its links to the CIA.”

The Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition, an umbrella organization of New York Muslim groups, on Thursday also called for an investigation.

In the decade since the September 2001 attacks, government officials in New York also have met with Muslim leaders and exchanged cellphone numbers. They’ve attended religious services, dinners and teas, and spoken at community meetings. The FBI recently hosted an event for 500 young Muslims in Brooklyn to build trust and get to know federal law enforcement, with a bomb-sniffing dog, scuba boat and helicopter on display.

“I go and visit mosques on a regular basis,” Kelly previously told the AP, adding that he also holds question-and-answer sessions and planned to attend several dinners with members of the Muslim community during the holy month of Ramadan this year.

The police department in 2006 hired Sidique Wai, an African immigrant and member of the New York Muslim community, to coordinate the NYPD’s citywide community outreach program. He said the interaction and outreach between the community and police is unprecedented.

“The majority of the faith-based—particularly the Muslim leaders throughout the city—are absolutely appreciative of the unprecedented relationship with the police department,” Wai said. “I’m not aware of a deliberate effort on the part of NYPD to profile people.”

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